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Bell's Vireo

Bell’s Vireo
Vireo bellii
(Order Passeriformes; Family Vireonidae)

Bell’s Vireo (by Terry Sohl from South Dakota Birds and Birding)

Bell’s Viero is drab grey to greenish above, white to yellowish below.  It is the most yellow in the easternmost part of its range and gets progressively grayer to the west.  It often bobs its tail.  They are typically 4.75 inches long with a  wingspan of 7.5 inches.  Bell’s Vireo has one prominent wingbar and a more faint one above it.  They have a faint white eye-ring.  Juveniles are similar to adults, but are whiter below and have more distinct wingbars.

Natural History:
Bell’s Vireo nests in June and July.  Their nests are open bag-like or basket-like cups of grass, straw-like stems, plant fibers, small skeletonized leaves, paper, and strips of bark fastened with spider silk.  Nests are almost always lined with fine, brown or yellow grass stems. The outside is decorated with spider egg cases. They are suspended from forks of low branches of small trees or shrubs. Bell’s Vireo lays 3–5 eggs that are white with sparse spotting.  Newly hatched chicks are helpless and naked.  Bell’ Vireo is a common victim of parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. 

Distribution: In the Midwest the breeding range of Bell’s Vireo extends from North Dakota to Indiana, south through Arkansas. It breeds across much of Texas westward through southern New Mexico and Arizona into southern California.  Greatest concentrations occur in south central Arizona, southwestern Texas, and east central Oklahoma.  Not much is known about the species' wintering range, which extends along the Pacific coast from northern Mexico south to northern Nicaragua. (Distribution map by Terry Sohl from South Dakota Birds and Birding)


Habitat:  This species prefers dense, low, shrubby vegetation, generally early successional stages in riparian areas, brushy fields, young second-growth forest or woodland, scrub oak, coastal chaparral, and mesquite brushlands, often near water in arid regions.  Bell’s Vireo uses corridors of habitat along rivers and streams.

Diet: Insects and spiders gleaned from leaves, twigs, and branches. They ometimes hovers while feeding. This species has a preference for large insects such as caterpillars, wasps, moths and certain beetles.  They also will feed on spiders, and occasionally on berries.


Conservation Status:  Near Threatened.  The "Least" Bell's Vireo of California is state and federally endangered.  Populations in the southwestern U.S. are generally stable, but Bell's Vireo are declining in the Midwest and southern plains.

Video:  Calling Bell's Vireo at Agua Caliente Park - Tucson, March 13, 2009

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology - All About Birds:



Field Guide to the Birds of North America (3rd Edition ed.). (1987). National Geographic Society.

South Dakota Birds and Birding:

Image Credits:
Bell’s Vireo by Terry Sohl from South Dakota Birds and Birding.

Distribution map by Terry Sohl from South Dakota Birds and Birding.


Submitted by: Heather Stewart, July 2011

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